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Are the Proteas guilty of overthinking?

South Africa coach Mark Boucher
South Africa coach Mark Boucher

South Africa’s recent win against England during the first Test at Lord’s was one of the most convincing performances from the Proteas since readmission.

In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint another Test match where the South Africans had been so devastatingly ruthless. South African fans may quickly answer that by pointing to November 2011 when underneath Table Mountain, the Proteas bowled Australia out for 47. Yes, that was as emphatic as it comes, but then again, that was at Newlands, an impenetrable fortress for the South Africans whilst the Proteas' win against England was at the Home of Cricket; the backyard of the enemy. 

In reality, such a comprehensive victory should have been the catalyst for the Proteas to go on and claim a series win in the next game but South Africa’s Achilles heel of doing what they can to reinvent the wheel proved to be their downfall once more. Indeed, this is a cricket team that tends to overthink their way to defeat, and that happened at Old Trafford in the next Test. The inescapable truth is that this has been happening for decades which is why, despite having one of the best sides in the world, the cricket betting odds price the Proteas at a staggering 10/1 to win the World Cup in 2023. 

Essentially, the latest cricket tips today are unequivocal in their estimation, following yet another example of South Africa’s ability to implode, that they will battle to win the World Cup next year. 

Overthinking and underachieving 

The world, has, of course, seen this trend develop since the 1999 World Cup when a costly mix-up handed Australia a heartbreaking semi-final win at Edgbaston courtesy of a better net run rate after a tied match.

World Cups in 2007, 2011, and 2015 meanwhile saw the Proteas capitulate when victory looked easier than losing. The fervent hope for South Africa was that those days were behind them, but as touched on, their decision-making during the second Test in Manchester against England proved that these demons still lurk.

Familiar clouds gather over the Proteas in Manchester 

On this particular occasion, it started when captain Dean Elgar won the toss and chose to bat despite heavy cloud cover above Old Trafford. Ultimately, this meant that the ball was going to swing and that the South African openers were going to have to face a bowler who would run in from a stand that was named after him owing to his unrivaled success in these very conditions. Indeed, James Anderson had made a career out of bowling in these situations and proceeded to bowl England to victory in the first session. 

It was an example of inexplicable self-sabotage by the South Africans who only a few days before, had terrorized the English with one of the most dynamic pace attacks seen in recent times. In hindsight, Elgar should have put England into bat and then picked at their scar tissue from Lord’s by setting his fearsome quartet loose on their shell-shocked top order.

Instead, South Africa’s captain handed England the initiative, and perhaps most remarkable of all, was that Elgar wouldn't have even been able to call on his celebrated quartet given that the Proteas changed their winning team for the second Test after dropping the highly talented all-rounder Marco Jansen.

Yes, Elgar and the Proteas’ think tank would have had their reasons for opting for a different eleven despite recording one of the most clinical victories in the country’s history only a few days prior, but in the cold light of day, they will be remembered for trying to fix what wasn’t broken.

This latest saga in England, is, effectively, a condensed version of South Africa’s cricket history. Indeed, the country can call upon arguably the greatest talent pool in the world and then assemble a team that should sit at the summit of the sport. However, their tendency to overthink will always ensure that the opposition merely needs to exercise a bit of patience before the Proteas find a way to lose.